Black Swan 9/10
There is a thin line between perfectionism and insanity. Darren Aronofsky immerses the viewer in the world of the dancer, where performance anxiety is routine and one is always looking over one's shoulder. Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman in a mesmerizing and Oscar-worthy performance) is a fragile ballerina coddled by an overprotective and infantilizing mother. Her perfectionism attracts the attention of ballet director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel in a brilliantly creepy performance), who on the one hand encourages her poise and controlled form for the role of the White Swan but on the other hand, finds difficulty cultivating the looser, more seductive form required for the role of the Black Swan. He believes that he can coax this performance out of her, and Nina pushes herself to meet this expectation. She endures the director's rebukes, her mother's suffocating attention (and career-associated guilt trips), the knowledge of what happened to the company's former star ballerina, and the arrival of her rebellious understudy, Lily (played surprisingly well by Mila Kunis). Despite all of these obstacles, as Leroy tells her later, "the only thing standing in your way is you." Aronofsky distills themes from "All About Eve," "The Red Shoes," "The Wrestler" (his companion piece with similar themes from 2008), and of course the Swan Lake ballet itself, with imagery inspired by early Polanski (i.e. "Repulsion," "The Tenant") and Cronenberg (i.e. "Videodrome"), as well as deft use of black, white, and red color and moody chiaroscuro. While it is not quite as disturbing as "Requiem for a Dream" (few things are), it is just as visceral and engaging and is probably Aronofsky's best film.